One of the paradoxes of how we record and watch films in the modern era is the stack of unwatched material that gradually builds up over time.
Over the last decade, as home audiences replaced their videos with DVDs, a revolution gradually happened as the rise in online rental services (Netflix in the US and LoveFilm in the UK) and PVRs meant that audiences could timeshift their viewing.
Online DVD rentals are paid for by a monthly subscription fee, so there are no deadlines to return the discs, and with a PVR you can record plenty of films for later viewing.
But what happens when it comes to actually watching these films you have rented or stored?
Back in 2006, an article in Newsweek by Brad Stone titled Netflix Guilt articulated this modern dilemma.
Stone used an unwatched copy of City of God to make his basic point:
I had “City of God” in my possession for 11 months, during which I paid $18 a month for a three-DVD-at-a-time Netflix subscription.
Finally, I returned the movie in defeat while delusionally re-adding it to the end of my queue. By that time, my wife and I were talking about a dangerous new force in our lives: Netflix guilt.
Since 2006, the problem has accelerated with movies on iTunes, larger PVRs and faster connection speeds to deliver them to homes.
The basic issue seems to lie in the enormous choice of films and how it is much easier to select what you want.
Or, to be more accurate, what you think you want.
It is still hard for an individual to actually select something that hits their particular tastes.
In other words, what we think we want to see, isn’t actually what we want to see, as this cartoon points out:
But it isn’t merely a case of mainstream versus art house: often mainstream films that look promising turn out to be awful and more independent fare is gripping.
Leaving aside old favourites, this means that the central problem still remains: how can we accurately select films we want to watch?
It is clearly a pressing question for companies like Netflix, which is why they offered $1 million to anyone who could come up with an algorithm to solve it.
But even that ended up in a lawsuit about privacy concerns.
Perhaps the best plan to cure ‘Netflix guilt’ is to just send those DVDs back or delete that film on your PVR.
If you really wanted to see it, you would have seen it by now. Right?